Here’s how Sandra Chiu healed my jaw, neck, and spine.
Working from home caused us all to operate in new and different ways. For me I am writing from the corner of my Brooklyn bedroom, six inches away from the bed I sleep on, sitting on a stool. Is it an ideal work set up? Not really. But for a couple years this is what it needed to be. As a result I had a lot of neck and jaw tension and my posture became hunched over. When I decided to address the issue I went to see my acupuncturist and TCM practitioner Sandra Chiu, L.Ac. who has a studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Lanshin. Sandra has been my go-to for years and recently went viral with everyone's favorite TikTok BFF, Lizzo (here and here), wherein she taught her how to use a Gua Sha tool to get a more defined jawline through a series of reposts. Casual!
Luckily, there were a few different modalities to try in order to treat my various issues. Sandra described how my tension was cutting off good circulation and closing in the spaces of my neck and jaw, stating that, “Tension closes up the space, just like clutter in a home blocks good air flow and light.” She cited things like acupuncture needles, which “open up space in tight tissues. Cupping vacuums the stagnation and its resulting impurities. Gua Sha and our infrared-heat massager sweeps up the stagnation and smooths the tissue. All the tools work well together.” I love the way Sandra describes all her tools as a house cleaning and I’m excited to share what I learned from my deep dive into the world of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Oftentimes in western cosmetic procedures, there is a desire to make a visual problem go away at the surface. Whereas in TCM, Sandra looks at the root cause that created the problem. “Cosmetic concerns aren't diseases or disorders, but they can indicate poor health or a neglect of proper body care, like not hydrating or sleeping enough. In other words, cosmetic problems are the visual manifestation of waning health, and in TCM we often resolve that by restoring good circulation and blood flow.”
My life is spent at a forward angle looking at phones and other screens. This pulled my whole body forward into a C-curve and created tension patterns where my neck was tight and shortened, my chest tighter and caved in. It affected the muscles in my back as well. I had lower back pain, degraded posture, and felt unhealthy and weak in my body overall. Cosmetic procedures could address some of these things, but only the outside manifestation — just how things look. Whereas TCM asks — how did my body get here?
Sandra would often explain to me that the bulking of my lower face and neck was an issue of my tension being so severe that it was blocking good flow of energy and blood flow through my neck and face. This is why she not only focused her acupuncture on my face, neck, and shoulders but she also spent time working on my back.
I wanted to work on my overall well being, posture, and develop some ongoing habits so I could maintain my results. As I mentioned, my back had become a C-curve from working in uncomfortable places so I wanted to restore the length of my neck in order to improve posture. I also wanted to reduce the bulk of my lower and mid face for a more sculpted look.
Sandra's goal was to restore the relationship of my head to my spine, so over a two month period at her studio, she focused her acupuncture needles and cupping on my neck, jaw, upper back, and shoulders. She also worked on my lower back and legs but all for the aim of working at the lower root of the original problem.
I am generally comfortable with acupuncture needles but Sandra took a lot of care to remain in constant communication with me during the sessions that I did once a week for two months. She used multiple tools to release muscle tension in different ways: the needles release tension at specific points while the cup suction is like a vacuum to draw out all the clutter. She applied the needles all over my neck and back to release the muscles based on Sandra’s deep knowledge of acupuncture pressure points. I would lay with these for about 20 minutes depending on how congested the space was.
Sandra also used cupping to release some of that stagnation. The cups are glass cup tools that were used after the needles as a suction to “vacuum” the space, causing skin to rise and redden as the blood vessels expand.
But for as important as the in-session work was at Sandra’s studio, maintenance matters to keep up the results. Gua Sha and infrared heat massager are the daily tools I used to help maintain the results of the TCM work. For comparison, my in-person session work with Sandra was like the deep cleaning you get at the dentist — but I can't just expect that to be enough to keep the results around. Gua Sha and heat massage are the equivalent to daily brushing and flossing in order to keep your teeth healthy after your dental appointment.
Over time I saw a visible change in the shape of my jawline, a lengthening of my neck, softening of the tension in my upper shoulders, and most importantly a far greater sense of overall well being. That said, the idea of “results” is different in TCM. Acupuncture has a transformative effect but it is not a “one and done” type of work. It requires me to do my part to maintain my health, which keeps my “results” longer. A lot of holding onto the results is my responsibility.
As Sandra states, “In TCM, long term maintenance of results is something you need to do for yourself. It's as basic as brushing your teeth. This includes sleep, nutrition, exercise, and can also include practices like Gua Sha and infrared-heat massage.”
Although there are days when I'm not in the mood, now that I have the right tools, I've actually grown to enjoy the fact that I am a participant in the efficacy of my results. If you want to learn too, my maintenance routine can be seen in this three part series: 1, 2, 3. Take it from me, a little face massage is the perfect way to end any busy day.